Well, that was fine.
Don't get me wrong: in its third episode, "Supergirl" remains a lot of fun. That's due largely to Melissa Benoist's effusive, un-self-conscious performance. In "Fight or Flight," which -- spoiler alert -- contains lots of flying and lots of fighting, Kara gets to fight some new battles, and Benoist remains a treat. But for the first time, what surrounded her seemed to drag her down, rather than rising to her level (or at worst, not holding her back).
Perhaps that's an appropriate circumstance for an episode that sees Kara held back by the people in her life -- well-intentioned though some of them may be. The episode picks up right where the last left off, with Kara floating in the air above Cat for their interview. Presumably this is a tactic to keep Cat from recognizing Kara, a tactic that might be sensible but just comes across as silly. Director Dermott Downs has Kara fly around a lot without a lot of rhyme or reason, eventually having her land on the ground just in time to snap in response to a particularly pointed question and turn around to face her boss.
It's one of several "gotcha" moments in the episode, lines that indicate that Cat has figured out Supergirl's identity -- a trick that's fine once ("It's you... I'm sorry, I mean to say, who are you?"), OK twice, and just plain off-putting by the third time ("You're not fooling me... you're late"). It's getting old, and fast. Calista Flockhart seems to revel in Cat's brashness, and there are a few solid gags here and there (the double glasses, in particular, was charming, if unlikely), but the writing for Cat isn't as clever as it wants to be.
Still, Cat's interview merely sets the stage for the events of the rest of the episode, revealing the Super family ties between the Man and the Girl and setting Kara up for one obstacle after another. When Reactron (a pretty uninspiring baddie-of-the-week) realizes that the two are cousins, he decides to target Supergirl, in hopes of causing Superman the same sort of pain he experienced when a nuclear disaster maimed him and killed his wife, before Superman could save the day. Reactron gets a lot of the oxygen in this episode, but he's really just a device used to get us to Maxwell Lord (kidnapped to fix Reactron's gear when Kara awesomely smashes it with a car door) and to force Jimmy to call on the Big Guy.
Because Reactron's just a sick, angry, grieving guy with some fancy tech, the DEO can't get involved. Team Supergirl takes him on alone, tracking him down in their brand new, charmingly lame lair. Alex isn't willing to let her sister go off without help, however, and commits to sticking with her, even when it means ignoring orders. Evil glowing eyes aside, Hank Henshaw decides to pitch in, too -- but not before becoming just the latest person to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Kara should call her cousin.
There's no escaping the fact that Supergirl is going to forever be tied to Superman. They're distinct characters, but even outside of being a part of the same mythology, they're inextricably linked -- by blood, by planet, by cape. The show has done a nice job so far of keeping Superman in the background, something that's true here, as well. When the Man of Steel arrives to save the day -- thanks a lot, Jimmy! -- the camera lingers behind him, taking it in from Kara's blurry, confused perspective. But when the episode focuses on Supergirl's need to let her own story unfold on her own terms and "fly her own battles," it's odd to have Superman's unseen presence so often pushed to the front. It's hard enough that the world wants to define Supergirl by her ties to her cousin -- does the show have to do it, too?
Granted, Supergirl's big battle this week -- a cool set-piece that sees Cat's "Supergirl Issue" party destroyed in glorious fashion -- is one she wins without the help of Mr. Kent. After trying to offer some perhaps unwelcome grief counseling to Reactron, Supergirl decides to take the route of punching him "real hard until he falls down," and gets a last second assist from Alex and Henshaw, who tell her to remove the core after encasing it in lead. So Kara melts down a statue, coats her hand in it (awesome), and deactivates the device, saving both Jimmy and Winn (Jeremy Jordan at his most awkward and charming) in the process. Still, even if she doesn't need her cousin's help, she could use a good listener, and it's amazing how satisfying the show managed to make an instant-message conversation between Kara and the unseen Clark.
It's lucky that Kara gets such a solid dose of warm fuzzies at the end of the episode, from Clark, Alex and that last potsticker alike, because otherwise there are plenty of storm clouds on the horizon. She's still dealing with sexist nonsense, from Cat's questions about starting a family to Lord's omission of her from the story of his rescue. She still seems to be oblivious to Winn's big fat crush. She still has two horrible bosses -- one who writes mean exposes and one who has secret glowing evil eyes -- and there's still a whole planet of space baddies out there. And with Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) entering the picture, her love connection seems a lot less secure. Worst of all, the episode itself betrays her, demanding that we take her story on her own terms while pointing off-screen to her more famous cousin at every possible opportunity. It's not without its charms,but it's pretty far from super.
(Oh, and PS: check out CBR's interview with Peter Facinelli for some inside dirt on what fans can expect from Maxwell Lord.)